Athlete Students

Did everyone’s high school weight room have sweat and asbestos or was it just mine?

Grace Schutte

More stories from Grace Schutte

May 10, 2023

Photo by Marisa Valdez

For the longest time I was strongly, strongly, strongly against going to the gym. 

I wasn’t against working out, you see, but the idea of being sweaty, gross, at my very lowest point all while being in public didn’t seem appealing, exactly. 

Growing up, I was a team sport player and there were few occasions where we weren’t practicing on the court or out in the field, but if we did find ourselves in the gym for weight training (the worst thing on the face of the earth, if you ask me), it was always as a team. 

My high school weight room was a dank, windowless padded room on the second floor of the decrepit Old Gym — yes, we had two gyms, but only because this one most definitely had toxic mold spores in the walls and wasn’t considered good enough for the football boys.

It was small, perpetually smelling of pubescent boys and musk and, thankfully, could only be used by teams who’d made a reservation. There was no arm-wrestling the wrestlers for the squat rack, no interdisciplinary wall sit competitions, nothing like that. 

But that’s not to say the team before your hour wouldn’t take their sweet time finishing their team huddle, half-heartedly putting the weights back. It also didn’t mean that the next reservation wouldn’t show up 20 minutes early and stare you down until it was their turn. 

As someone who dreaded weightlifting practices more than I did taking the ACT, I couldn’t imagine why someone would want to stay there longer than absolutely necessary. 

It was an evil place that had a certain something in the air — sweat and asbestos, probably. 

But even when in the privacy of my own team, I didn’t love working out in the gym. I’m having flashbacks to the whole softball team lined up in a row holding a plank position and everytime someone dropped, 30 seconds were added on to the timer. 

I can feel the rubber burn on my forearms; the sting of sweat in my eyes; my hatred for that godforsaken place. 

When I graduated, thus having served my gym-going time, I had no desire to get a gym membership for wherever I’d end up next. And I stayed that way for many years. 

But as I’m sure you’re all aware, gym culture is undeniably part of the Gen Z experience — regardless of if you’re a gym-goer or not. The Gym Bro archetype, while not new, has been taken to the next level through the presence of social media. 

There are countless accounts, websites, classes and self-certified experts on all the different ways to pick up heavy things, twist and lunge in certain ways and transform your body into something unrecognizable. 

I took great pleasure in watching those videos of skinny, average-looking girls deadlifting three times their body weight and catching the myriad of shocked facial expressions in the background. 

I’d give those videos a like, read through all the comments and say to myself, “Wow, that’s amazing,” and keep going on with my day, not feeling the least bit inclined to give it a try. And there are multiple reasons for that, but the biggest one being gym culture. 

The gym is a daunting place, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing. 

My worst nightmare is being approached by some guy and him correcting my form, or mansplaining how to properly walk on the treadmill. 

There’s that and people seeing me struggle up the stairmaster after only three minutes, folks noticing the small pond of sweat accumulating in my everything, or me tripping on my way to the disinfectant wipes and just laying there — because, noodle legs. 

When I brave the gym, I usually immerse myself in a TV show or a playlist. I try my darndest to forget I’m at the gym at all. But my gym buddy, she told me that sometimes she doesn’t listen to music or zone out on one of the many screens hanging around. 

Instead, she people watches, and I just about screamed. 

If you see me at the gym, don’t say “hi,” don’t acknowledge me, because there’s a very good chance I do not want to be there. 

Schutte can be reached at [email protected].